Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
It's the best neighborhood bar in Fort Lauderdale, but it feels like the best neighborhood bar in Johannesburg, South Africa. For 40 years, thirsty patrons have found a home in the Kalahari's cool interior, decorated with zebra pelts, old-man chairs, a mock fireplace, a pool table, antique photos and maps, and a bookshelf. To step inside is to join the secret club that watches rugby, can turn a phrase or two in Afrikaans, and knows a warthog from a wildebeest. To participate in Saturday karaoke or occasional "Bring and Braai" barbeques is to have a really "lekker jol" (nice time). Sadly, current proprietors Hal and Dee Hofmeyr are retiring Hal's turning 80 so the bar is up for sale. But we have faith that the trusty bartenders all of whom have been there for five years or more will keep the place intact. After all, the family that drinks Springbok cocktails together, stays together.
Anyone who's made the gay scene, or just tooled around the offbeat circuit, probably knows about Miss Misty Eyez. She's the MC at just about every charity gala, to-do, or party worth putting your heart into. From her aerosol-sculpted hair to her legendarily generous heart, everything about Miss Eyez is larger than life, and that's how she became known as the fiercest drag queen this side of Vegas. Misty has hosted Trailer Trash Bingo parties, Red Balls, White Parties. "If somebody has enough gumption to ask me, I will always participate."
In the early years, it was solely benefits. But demand grew until, soon, everyone wanted Miss Misty Eyez at their parties. And they started paying her. Now Misty is almost a corporation, and in Fort Lauderdale she is certainly an institution. We wanted to know what it's like to be wanton, large, and in charge.
New Times (on the telephone): Sorry to call you out of the blue, but it sounds like you're somewhere really fun!
Miss Misty Eyez: Actually, yes! I'm at a party!
It's 3:26 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. You're at a party?
Well, it's a pool party, if that makes a difference.
What's the best part about being, er, undercover?
Well, like today, for instance. I'm here at this pool party [in drag] and I could be Misty Eyez. I could be foolish or say something ridiculous. Then tomorrow I could go shopping at Kmart and nobody would recognize me! It's like Clark Kent changing into Wonder Woman. It's great.
Got any secret weapons? Some gadget that you pull out at crucial moments?
Easy. Pump It Up Gold hair spray! I found it by accident, and, I tell you, it changed my life. I sprayed it on the wig and realized, "Ohmigod. My hair's cemented."
Are there any exotic places that you would like your Misty Eyez character to take you? A fabulous beach resort? A city with rickshaws?
(Thinking hard.) Hmmm. Yes! Television! I would love for Misty Eyez to be a host correspondent on E-TV. Or a guest star on Queer As Folk. Or maybe a dead body on CSI.
We know, it used to be Blondies on the Beach. And not much other than the 50 upgraded plasmas TVs has changed here at this bar on one of the few historic blocks in Fort Lauderdale. It's back after a months-long closure not the kind of door-slamming where old management screwed up and you could count on some new guy swaggering in and fixing up the joint. It was the kind of goodbye brought on by progress and developers who don't seem to give a whit about anything other than making the South Florida coastline along the Atlantic look like Boca Raton. And this five-acre strip was no different at least until negotiations stalled. Partly because those developers are so uncaring and hard-knuckled, thousands more will get a chance to enjoy this old favorite in its new incarnation. Seems the buyout of the entire block including the hallowed ground of the Elbo Room got screwed up when not everybody could agree on the details needed to close the deal. At some point in our lifetimes, the entire block will likely still be cleared to make way for condominiums or hotels or mixed-use zoning something whatchamacallit. But in the meantime, pull up a chair out front or a stool at the bar and set your gaze on the ocean that's still right in front of you. This view still costs only the price of a beer. The pushy guys the new owners hired early on (the ones who rudely tried to pull you and your girlfriends out of the Elbo Room for a free shot at Dirty Blondes) aren't there anymore. And don't forget to head back to the game room (it's in the same spot in the back), shoot some pool, give your quarters to the Golden Tee, and drink until 4 a.m.
All that's old is made new again: pegged jeans, environmentalism, Cher, blues. Apparently, the same holds true for blues venues. The Backroom Blues Bar wasn't the most famous venue in South Florida when it closed six years ago, but it was one of the most storied. A list of blues greats had played its stage: James Cotton, who taught Muddy Waters how to sing "I Got My Mojo Workin'"; John Mayall, without whom you'd have never heard of Mick Taylor; Fleetwood Mac, or, arguably, Eric Clapton; Leon Russell, without whom neither The Byrds nor Joe Cocker would ever have sounded so cool. The list goes on. When owner John Yurt decided to throw in the towel to home-school John Jr., the blues done got blue. No more! The Backroom is back, occupying the space formerly known as Hideaway. Already, bent and broken-hearted notes from battered hollow-bodies are rending the air above Boca. Rejoice.
Imagine, for the sake of argument, that the retro-lounge art of Shag and the cartoon universe of The Jetsons were tossed in a blender and set to liquefy. The space-age concoction that pours forth will no doubt emerge as iconoclastic as the Jetsetter Lounge itself, a magical space-age tiki-hut where dreams (especially those revolving around expensive tropical drinks) come true. With furniture that won't be out of place on the next century's space station, live lounge lizards crooning on weekends, and the ubiquitous lowbrow paintings on the walls, the Jetsetter sprang forth fully formed when it opened in early 2006, oozing cool the way Mount Kilauea leaks magma. Owner and style consultant Mike Jones built himself a playground for grownups here, and now he's got the hipster crowd eating out of his hand. Out back is a luxurious terrace decked out in a sort of Easter Island theme, and even though you're next to the street, it feels like a friend's backyard barbecue.
Sometimes, all it takes to have a good rock club is good acoustics, a dark atmosphere, and bartenders serving stiff drinks. Longtime Himmarshee hangout the Poor House has all that, and it's one of the few places along the New River district that's down-to-Earth forget about a dress code and cover charge. The small room has the feel of an old country roadhouse, and it indeed began its life as a blues club back in the mid '90s. The music doesn't start until late, usually around midnight, so don't show up too early. But the atmosphere and décor scream old-school rockabilly, and folks can enjoy it without having to shell out a heap of cash. If the name doesn't give it away, the Poor House is also one of the cheapest rock clubs to drink at.
Sidelines is not a club. If you're interested in rubbing your ass against the washboard abs of some 20-year-old androgyne with a glow-in-the-dark tongue ring in the middle of a sweat-soaked drug orgy while Anastacia freaks out at a billion decibels, Sidelines is not the place for you. It is simply a remarkable gay bar. First of all, it is gay. Gay (queer) men and gay (queer) women hang around the place being gay (happy) until the place announces last call at 2 a.m. Second of all, it's a bar in the truest sense of the word a sports bar, as a matter of fact, with the low-key, no-pressure atmosphere that such a designation implies. The nicest thing about the SoFla gay community is that, despite the great number of GLBT folks who have made homes here in the last decade, there is still a small-town mentality. Walk into a place like Sidelines, and it's a given that you'll know somebody. The music's always eclectic on a recent Tuesday, Sam Cooke, Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, the Isley Brothers, and U2 were played back-to-back and loud enough to lose yourself in but not so loud you couldn't talk over it. The booze is plentiful and inexpensive, the space is blessedly clean but not austere think Cheers done up in dark greens with a lot more space and decorated by gay men with an equal passion for football and feng shui, and you'll get the picture.
With four active stages at this low-lit, 27-year-old feline-inspired club, Cheetah Pompano Beach has all the strip-club staples, just quadrupled. So you get the featured touring acts like the creatively monikered Felony Foreplay and Amber Waves, a happy hour that lasts all afternoon (11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.), a free lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a free carving station from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Not enough food? Try the free midnight buffet. You're going to need to save your money, because it's going to end up in the G-strings (and other places) of the dozens of women parading in front of you. Want a private show for 150 of your closest friends? Rent the "party room." There may not be any sex in the champagne room, but whatever goes on, you can be guaranteed you won't leave hungry.
If bigger is better, the Park Sports Club is the best. Its 15,000 square feet hold about 40 plasma TVs, two 16- by nine-foot video walls, and an 80-foot bar in a split-level room designed to look like a baseball park the bathroom appears to be a locker room, and the couches are made of the same leather and use the same stitching as regulation baseball gloves. There are actual skyboxes, or you can be served sitting in the "bleachers" (tables built at different levels). Want some privacy? Rent the cigarette-friendly "Coach's Office" for private parties. There's a full menu of traditional sports-bar fare, but the highlight (or lowlight, depending upon your cholesterol count) is the chocolate chip cookie à la mode for $7.
It's not the ease of getting a cab or the proximity of this bar to a few hotels or some buddy's house in Fort Lauderdale that makes it the best place to get hammered. It's the fact that this one bar is really two and, thus, double the drinking pleasure. Start off in the dark and quiet interior of Side 1, where the regulars gather daily around the grand mahogany bar for happy hour to chat about their workdays, their significant others, or the War Against Terror. Go ahead, order that first shot at 4 p.m. we did say this is the place to get drunk, right? By sunset, you should be well on your way to being blotto, and you may have made a few new friends too. If the 70-something man who's put his cane on the bar next to his Miller High Life starts making you feel old, stand up, push in that padded barstool, and walk west through a little hallway (if you need cigs, put a fiver into the machine next to the bathrooms along the way). Suddenly, you're in a whole new bar and not only didn't you have to drive, you didn't even have to go outside. In the back room at Kim's, the lights tend to be just a shade brighter mostly so you can shoot pool and darts or challenge someone to a Ping-Pong match. The second jukebox is sure to be playing something distinct from the one up front, and the regulars back here are a whole different group. It's a no-frills kind of establishment (taking home Best Neighborhood Bar in 1999). In 2000, the friendly and veteran Laurrie Pood won Best Bartender for her mixology skills as well as her ability to make everyone feel welcome. Laurrie is still there and will surely make you her signature drink if you ask. It's Stoli strawberry vodka, banana liqueur, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and Sprite. She's named it the "Drunken Monkey."
Once called Harry's Open Door, this Lake Worth bar changed its name to sponsor a kid's ball club, which wouldn't take money from a bar. That sort of neighborliness, combined with a raunchy atmosphere that spurred Penthouse to designate it as one of America' s ten sleaziest bars (the owner has the shellacked news clipping to prove it), makes Harry's a great place to get drunk. Well, that and the 60-ounce pitcher for just $6. Since 1954, the family business (first Harry Seifert Sr.'s and now Jr.'s) has been this tiny neighborhood joint and its jukebox, lending library, pool and foosball tables, and golf and bowling videogames. Best of all, it opens at 7 a.m. every day (except Sundays, when the law won't let 'em open till 1 p.m.). Harry's is also a package store that is jam-packed with oddities that give it a garage-sale/clubhouse feel: a ten-foot alligator, a female mannequin in T-shirt and panties, and a mounted deer's ass. The place has a naughty charm, thanks to banana-and-breast art work done by locals including artist Clarence "Skip" Measelle and a winking sense of humor evidenced by the tiny ten-ounce glasses in this self-proclaimed "home of the big ass beer."
Drink prices at Rosies's drop down at 2 p.m., not the standard 4 o'clock happy hour. And that's just the first reason why this spot hosts the best happy hour in Broward County. (Just think, if you take your break late, your liquid lunch will be half price!) There's never an obnoxious "ladies' night" at this gay-friendly bar and grill, where free drinks leave your soul and patience with a heavy deficit. Rosie's celebrates all the major drinking holidays, like St. Patrick's Day and Mardis Gras, with decorations, specialty cocktails, and music to fit the occasion. A choice between sitting inside or out at this massive bar is the final reason Rosie's gets the blue ribbon.